Friday, April 15, 2011

Clementine's Potatoes

A week ago, we were excitedly on our way up to San Francisco for a conference. We wanted to give ourselves a few days to leisurely make our way up there, so we stopped at our all-time fav restaurant, Clementine's. It's located in the sleepy town of Carpinteria, just a few miles south of Santa Barbara. If you've never heard of this seaside gem, you should absolutely check out the town. And please don't leave before eating dinner at Clementine's.

My dad's parents had a home in Carpinteria during many of my growing up years, so this restaurant and the whole cozy, casual lifestyle of the town feels like a warm blanket around my shoulders. Clementine's is an eating experience--one of the best places to share a meal with your favorite people, and I've been fortunate to go there with many of my favorite people.

Clementine's has the quaint charm of a restaurant that is stopped in time--a good time. A slower, happier time. They start your service by bringing out a fresh relish tray--homemade pickles, pepperoncinis, carrots, and celery. And fresh bread and butter. This is where the meal can start and end for me--the pickles are crisp and fresh, and the bread tastes like it was baked by the Pacific--moist and yet crunchy on the outside.

But there's more to come. Salad or soup (weigh homemade dressing and croutons v. deliciously comforting thick soup...) and your entree. In my younger years, I always ordered steak here, but Doug and I haven't been so hot on red meat lately, so he got the fried chicken, and I got a vegetarian casserole (squash, cheese, corn...yum.)

I tell you all this because you can't go to Clementine's without getting a baked potato with your meal. Their potatoes are the one thing everyone in the restaurant raves most about--as they taste crispy, fried, soft, fluffy--all at once. Several fellow diners asked how they're made, and alas, it's a family secret. Each meal includes a slice of homemade pie (this is my kind of place--are you with me on this?!). Apple, rhubarb, pumpkin, four kinds of cream pie, cherry, peach...the list goes on. Made fresh each morning. Couldn't ask for more. Their meals and relish tray are standouts, but the pie finale is what really escalates each meal for me.

Well, our trip got turned around the next day unforseeably, and we never made it up north. So when I came back, I called Mom to get her take on these potatoes and how we might make them at home. Tonight, I tried my version of these, and voila, here it is. They were remarkably like Clementine's, though I know I'll never get the recipe just right.

Baking potatoes
Vegetable oil

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Peel each potato and rub generously with oiled hands. Prick with knife and place on lined baking sheet in oven. (I know--baked potatoes without peels sounds strange, but trust me. You'll never go back.)

Bake until potatoes are crispy outside (should be hard to pierce) and tender inside (about 45 mins to an hour, depending on size of potatoes).

Remove from oven and serve immediately. If you cover these or wrap them at all, they'll get soggy. Serve 'em fresh. While we enjoyed these immensely with just sour cream and butter and salt and pepper, it seems they'd also be great sliced into coins and served as breakfast potatoes or coined and then topped with a variety of toppings for appetizers. These are just thoughts.

Even without the pie finale, this brought our favorite restaurant home and made us long even more for the road trip we haven't yet had.

Easter Cuppies

My mom carries on her grandmother's Easter cupcake tradition, and this year, she and I made a trial run batch of them together. (As if they might turn out badly...better make a test batch just in case...) When I was a kid, these cupcakes were among my favorite, as I'm a huge fan of white cake with sprinkles, of funfetti, as the boxed mixes call it.


1 box white cake mix
1/4 c. sprinkles or rainbow jimmies
Egg, oil, and water according to box mix
Homemade white buttercream (powdered sugar, milk, butter, vanilla)
Green food coloring
Jelly beans

Prepare white cake mix according to box directions, adding in sprinkles or jimmies. Drop batter into lined muffin tin, and bake according to box instructions. Alternatively, you could use a funfetti cake mix--not quite as fun, but hey, it works.

While the cuppies are baking, make your buttercream, tinting it light green with food coloring. Remove cupcakes from oven, and let them cool. Put about 1 c. cocnut in a jar and drop in 6-7 drops green food coloring, or as much as you want to make it your preferred shade of green. Shake vigorously to disperse color. Pour into shallow dish or pan.

When cuppies are cool, frost generously (or not so generously if you prefer the cake, as my mom does) with frosting. Dunk frosted cupcake in coconut. Then place 3 jelly beans on top. I suppose you could add a marshmallow character on top if you like, but they're not my thing. It would look cute to see it watching over the egg, I suppose.

These are such a fun tradition for us--it's not about the chocolate at Easter in our family. :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

Many years ago, I started a little something serious with chocolate peanut butter balls. A wonderful coworker always brings these to holiday Christmas party potlucks, friends make them....they're a big deal in my world.

If you haven't yet had the pleasure, let me introduce you to your new favorite sinful treat. Peanut buttery. Crunchy. Salty. Dark chocolatey. Yum.

3 c. crisped rice cereal
1 c. powdered sugar (a little more or less depending on how sweet you prefer it)
1 1/4 c. natural peanut butter/almond butter (I mixed the two--up to you. You could use regular, I suppose.)
Good grind of fresh sea salt
1 stick butter
3 c. extra dark chocolate chips (we used Guittard)

Melt butter in microwave in big glass bowl. Add in sugar, cereal, peanut butter, and salt. Mix well to combine. Form into balls (or eggs for upcoming Easter). Lay balls or eggs on waxed paper lined cookie sheet. Freeze for 30 mins.

Melt chips in glass bowl in microwave, using lower heat and short intervals between stirs. Remove treats from freezer and dip into bowl of chocolate to coat completely. Note: You want a high quality chocolate chip on this, or you may have mixed melting results. I know many use some shortening or similar to add to chocolate to make it smooth and satiny for dipping, but I just dip the treats into straight chocolate.

The main difference here is that mine look matte when finished and the others look shinier and more professional. My feeling? They're not going to be around long enough to observe how glossy they are, right? Still, if you're taking them to a gathering...

Place dipped balls/eggs back on waxed paper sheet and put into fridge to harden several hours or overnight. When you're done, you'll have several dozen glorious chocolate candies to share at your next family dinner or potluck. These are the very best peanut butter and chocolate can be together, if you ask me.

Hope you try them soon--people will be begging you for the recipe and suspiciously forget all about certain peanut butter eggs that are in check out lines this time of year. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tortilla Soup

If you read this blog regularly (I know, it's just my parents who do this...), you know that we love soup. One of our favorites is chicken tortilla. It's always a bit different, as each pot of soup is a work in progress right up until the last, but here's the basic recipe we use.

1 white onion, chopped
3 ribs celery and its leaves, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
Salt and pepper
4 chicken bouillon cubes and 5 c. water, or 5 c. chicken stock
2 T. dried cilantro
2 T. dried parsley
1 t. dried garlic
1/2 t. dried cumin
Dash chili powder
Pinch red pepper flakes
Dash cayenne
1 c. fresh salsa
1 can corn, drained
1 can pinquitos, drained
2 packets hot sauce (is this ghetto? I love adding this to soups!)
2 c. cheese, shredded
1 avocado, diced
3 c. crushed tortilla chips
4-5 chicken breat tenders, optional

Mix onion, celery, pepper, carrot, spices, and water in stock pot. Add chicken bouillon or stock. Boil for 25 mins. Add salsa, corn, beans, and hot sauce to pan. Cook another 5 mins. If you want, you can throw in 4-5 chicken breast tenders when you start the vegetables. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we don't. If so, take those out and shred the meat, returning it to the pan to cook for another few minutes.

Remove soup from heat and serve with cheese, avo, and chips. Some like to add sour cream, but we usually don't. This soup never fails to make the evening--it's so hearty and warm.

Chocolate Lollipops

Around Christmas, we bought some fancy chocolate from a chocolatier, and Doug made dipped pretzels that were absolutely delicious. So encouraged were we by this exciting chocolate development that we've since made a few batches of chocolate lollipops. We took our cue from Ina Garten on this one, and boy, was it a good decision.

The only problem with these is that they're not the size of my head.

Chocolate Lollipops

3 c. good quality chocolate morsels (we used Chuao) -- don't use chips--they don't melt well
Chopped nuts
Chopped dried fruit
Lollipop sticks
Cellophane bags and ties

Feel free to make this with dark, milk, or white chocolate. We prefer dark and white so usually go with those. Melt the chocolate in 30 second microwave intervals. If you're using good melting chocolate, this should be easy to do within a minute and a half. If you try this with chips, you'll probably get a dry, goopy mess. You're going for a silky, satiny texture with the chocolate. Higher quality is always better here--I say, better to have fewer lollipops that all taste delicious than more that taste like cheap chocolate. Right?

While the chocolate is still warm, use a spoon to drop it into disc shapes on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet. Twirl the stick in the base of each disc while the chocolate is still warm. Working quickly, drop your choice of dried nuts and fruits onto each disc. My favorite is pistachio with dried cranberries or cherries. White chocolate is great with dried blueberries and macadamia nuts. Cashews and dried apricots are good on either. We prefer salted nuts to raw ones, but it's up to you. Then place lollipops in freezer to set.

After about 45 minutes, pull each lollipop out and wrap individually in bag with a tie. I got the sticks, bags, and ties back at a cake shop several years ago and still have them leftover. You could probably find them there or at Michaels. What we love about these is how impressive they look once they're done. We store ours in the freezer and pull out for company. Not really. They don't last that long.

This recipe could make you 10-15 pops, depending on how big you make yours. Enjoy!